Vice President Kamala Harris is making history as the first woman and first woman of color to serve in that role.
As the country celebrates Valentine’s Day on Sunday, experts are pointing to the fact that Harris is also the face of a growing demographic of women marrying later in life, if they marry at all.
“I think this is one of the most significant demographic trends, both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Bella DePaulo, a California-based social scientist and the author of “Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.” “And the demographic trends do mean that, statistically, it is increasingly likely that more women in the public eye will be people who have been unmarried their whole life.”
The median age of first marriage has also been steadily increasing, and around 16% of Americans get to their late 40s without having married, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Last year there were approximately 40 million never-married women age 15 and older in the U.S., compared to 27 million in 2000, according to the Census Bureau.
Harris, who does not have biological children of her own, is also part of a wave of women choosing to not have children, or to have fewer children and have them later in life.
“I just think that she’s such a trailblazer on so many levels, shattering glass ceilings and glass slippers,” said Mandy Hale, a bestselling author and founder of the popular The Single Woman account on Instagram. “She’s just such living proof of blaze your own trail and throw all the rules out the window and ‘happily ever after’ can come in any way, at any age.”
Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, was not married when she became the first Black woman to be elected district attorney of San Francisco. In 2011, she was also not married when she became the first woman, first Black person and first Asian American to serve as California’s attorney general.
She represented California as a U.S. senator — the second Black woman and first South Asian American senator in history — from January 2017 until resigning from the post in January to become vice president.
She did not meet her now-husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, until she was in her late 40s and serving as California’s attorney general.
Harris and Emhoff, a Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer, were set up on a blind date in 2013 by a friend of Harris’.
The vice president wrote in her 2019 memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” that the morning after their first date, Emhoff sent an email to set up future dates, writing, “I’m too old to play games or hide the ball … I really like you, and I want to see if we can make this work.”
Hale, whose new book, “Don’t Believe the Swipe,” focuses on dating, said Emhoff’s email to Harris is an example of the maturity and wisdom that comes with finding love later in life.
“When you’re a little bit older, you’ve seen things and you know things and you know a prize when it’s standing right in front of you,” she said. “It’s another mark of something that has to come with maturity and just life experience.”
“The thing that I think is great about Kamala is that regardless of whether she had met her husband or not, she still would have lived this amazing, successful, happy existence,” added Hale, who described Emhoff as adding “the cherry on top of the sundae” in Harris’s life.
Harris and Emhoff wed in 2014, her first marriage and his second. She became stepmom, or “Momala,” to Emhoff’s two children, Cole, now 26, and Ella, now 21.
She has described Cole and Ella as her “endless source of love and pure joy,” writing in an essay for Elle magazine, “I can say one thing with certainty, my heart wouldn’t be whole, nor my life full, without them.”
Stigmatizing of single people remains
Even as they are on the upswing of a demographic trend, single women still face obstacles to reaching high levels of power like Harris, according to DePaulo.
Of the 24 women currently serving in the U.S. Senate, the majority have been or currently are married.
Among President Joe Biden’s record-breaking number of Cabinet nominees that are female, most either have been or are currently married.
“The complicating factor is all the singlism, the stereotyping and stigmatizing of single people,” she said. “Single people — perhaps single women, especially — are still presumed to be flawed in some way, or just not as worthy of respect and dignity and celebration as married women.”
“All of that is ridiculous, of course, and it is an embarrassing set of beliefs to have in the 21st century, but it is our reality,” she said. “And despite the increasing numbers of single women and men, and the clout that should come with that, they are often ignored in policies and even in rhetoric.”
Like Hale, DePaulo said the important example Harris is setting is not just that she found a supportive, loving partner with now-second gentleman Emhoff — who has put his law career on hold — but that she did fine without him, too.
“I hope people look at the first 49 years of her life and realize that single women can lead amazing, joyful lives of great consequence,” she said. “I hope they look at all the kinds of people Harris has cared about, and who have cared about her, throughout her life — friends, relatives of all ages, chosen family members, sorority sisters, mentors, and colleagues — and realize that romantic relationship partners do not need to be valued above all of the other people in our life.”
“We can decide for ourselves who matters, who we care about, who we love,” said DePaulo.
Vicki Larson, a California-based journalist and the author of the forthcoming book, “Acting Our Age,” said she is also inspired by watching Harris “hitting her stride” at age 56, both personally and professionally.
“She found love at 49, got married at 50, became a stepmother and now is Vice President of the United States,” said Larson. “There are a lot of narratives about being an older woman and Kamala is definitely proving it wrong.”
“It’s really healthy for us to see women who are living great lives that don’t fit the script,” she added. “Younger women can look at that and say, ‘I can do that too, if that’s what I want.’” (By Katie Kindelan | ABC News)